AIGPI is a Native-led research entity and independent think tank created by Heather Cahoon. AIGPI provides tribal nations in Montana with credible, in-depth research and analysis of tribal-level policies that impact the full range of social determinants of health in Indian Country. This includes policies related to internal government structures and functions, social and health issues, revenue generation and economic development, among other topics requested by tribal leaders.
Recognizing that many tribal government officials lack access to the type of policy research, analysis and related legal expertise that is supplied in-house by a staff of researchers employed to serve state legislators through Legislative Services Divisions (LSD) and federal policymakers through Congressional Research Services (CRS), AIGPI fills this void. Entities such as LSD and CRS serve as shared staff to legislative and congressional committees, legislators, and members of Congress. They provide expert assistance at every stage of the legislative process including bill and amendment drafting, performing in-depth policy and legal research on policy topics and presenting the potential impacts of policy proposals. Because individual policymakers naturally do not have expertise in every area in which they are tasked with developing policy, entities such as LSD and CRS provide a crucial service to policymakers as well as the general public, whose lives are very much impacted by the laws crafted by their legislative representatives. The CRS website says it best: “With public policy issues growing more complex, the need for insightful and comprehensive analysis has become vital. Congress relies on CRS to marshal interdisciplinary resources, encourage critical thinking and create innovative frameworks to help legislators form sound policies and reach decisions on a host of difficult issues. These decisions will guide and shape the nation today and for generations to come.”
The complexities surrounding tribal public policymaking are even more complicated given the history and impacts of federal Indian policies and the relative newness of modern day tribal governing structures, many of which were formed after the passage of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. Likewise, U.S. Supreme Court rulings affecting tribal sovereignty, the range of tribes’ self-governing abilities, and the array of overlapping governmental jurisdictions and intertwined local, state, and federal laws further complicates matters. Thus, AIGPI provides tribal policymakers with a critical professional service that can further their efforts to strengthen reservation economies and build individual and community health and prosperity.
AIGPI research and analyses also help educate local, state and federal policymakers and the broader public on an array of complex policy matters relating to American Indians that have real quality of life implications on reservations across the country. Additionally, through an active learning environment tribal community members and student leaders gain a comprehensive understanding of the tribal policymaking process, how various levels of policy interact, and how outdated, unresponsive and harmful public policies can be reengineered to encourage systems that support socioeconomic health and tribal sovereignty.